By Dr George Venturini
Edward abdicated as king on 11 December 1936, saying in a broadcast to the Empire: “… I have found it impossible to carry the heavy burden of responsibility and to discharge my duties as King as I would wish to do without the help and support of the woman I love.”
He took the title the Duke of Windsor and stepped aside for his brother Albert, who became King George VI. Governments of British Commonwealth countries especially, with Australia at the forefront, had objected to their king marrying Wallace Simpson.
After Edward’s broadcast, the Catholic Prime Minister of Australia, Joe Lyons, revealed to Parliament that he had been in direct contact with the King, telling him bluntly: “ … any proposal that Mrs. Simpson should become consort and not Queen and that her issue (children) should be barred from succession would not be approved by my government.”
Lyons would not have an American as Queen either, telling British Prime Minister Stanley Baldwin that Mrs. Simpson’s marriage to Edward, as “a lady of American birth, twice divorced” would be inconsistent with him remaining on the Throne, and would invoke “widespread condemnation.”
After his abdication, in 1937, Edward and Mrs. Simpson visited Hitler at his mountain retreat at Obersalzberg and inspected a guard of the SS. The Schutzstaffel, literally ‘Protection Squadron’, was a major paramilitary organisation under Adolf Hitler and the Nazi Party in Nazi Germany, and later throughout German-occupied Europe during the second world war. But – as previously seen – they were far from alone in sympathising with Germany, which was the original home of his Royal Family. Lyons was one of a string of Australian leaders who consistently appeased Hitler.
From 1933 until 1939 Britain had sat staring like a mesmerised rabbit at Germany’s preparation for war. Any suggestions for action on Britain’s part were discouraged on the ground that it might irritate the Nazi monster and produce the very calamity that Britain desired to avert, to quote friend of King Edward, cabinet minister and diplomat, Duff Cooper in his autobiography Old men forget (Faber & Faber, London 2011).
The genuine fear of a repetition of the unprecedented slaughter of the first world war strongly suggested appeasement. Neville Chamberlain was among the foremost in Britain.
When Lyons in Australia was challenged with the Nazi atrocities against the Jews as late as November 1938, he insisted that ‘internal affairs’ be separated from ‘diplomatic concerns’ and declined to protest. Robert Gordon Menzies enthusiastically joined the appeasers – as already seen.
Duff Cooper wrote that he was gently chided at a dinner once by Edward VIII for being mildly critical of Germany: “He hoped, as so many people did at the time, that we should be able to come to terms with the new regime in Germany, and he regretted my attitude towards it.”
A much-admired popular historian, travel writer and television personality, who recently passed away, John Julius Cooper, the son of Duff, suggested that it all would have been so much worse without Edward’s abdication. That, of course, is a supposition and has no supporting evidence. He himself was part of the establishment as the 2nd Viscount Norwich and decided to write under that name.
J. J. Norwich thought that “Wallis Simpson saved the country.” … “I think that Mrs Simpson saved not only the monarchy but also the country. She is actually my candidate for the fourth plinth in Trafalgar Square.” He was commenting on the original English documentary of The Nazi king – fool or traitor? (‘SBS Radio, 10 November 2018).
In matters such as these it is always difficult to establish the truth beyond doubt, or to the extent that it would satisfy a law court – although it has been seen how difficult it has been even to try and obtain ‘The Palace letters.’ There is nothing beyond a high suspicion that John Flastaff colluded with Queen Elizabeth II in the Royal Ambush of the Whitlam Government. Only Her Majesty would know, and probably remember. Falstaff left the stage long time ago, 24 March 1991. The Queen is about to turn 93, 21 April 2019.
The world of monarchs, particularly in democracy-defective countries such Australia and the United Kingdom, is a very complex one, in which ‘The State’ may have an interest in ‘protecting The Sovereign’ by spying on her/him!
Professor Richard Aldrich of the University of Warwick’s Department of Politics and International Studies, began in April 2017 to present a programme to Channel 4, titled Spying on the Royals, which is a new documentary series about how the British government spies targeted Edward VIII, Wallis Simpson and even the reigning king George VI.
Newly found evidence revealed who ordered the surveillance, the extent of it, and the unique insights it provided into the royal scandal.
“The government has maintained that it does not intercept or tap royal communications – this episode turns history on its head”, said Professor Aldrich. He is the author, with R. Cormac, of The Black Door: Spies, Secret Intelligence and British Prime Ministers (HarperCollins, Publishers, London 2017).
“This is not the intelligence agencies acting alone, this is not spies acting as rogue elephants. This comes from the very centre of power,” said Professor Aldrich.
He might have been more fortunate than a colleague in Australia who is still waiting for a modern move by the judicial system.
More fortunate was Dr. Karina Urbach, a German historian with a special interest in the Nazi period, particularly 1933-1945. She has written several books on 19th and 20th century European political and cultural history. She is currently researching American intelligence operations against the National Socialists in wartime and post-war.
Dr. Urbach has had a fortunate education and a brilliant career. She was a Kurt Hahn Scholar at the University of Cambridge where she took her M.Phil. in international relations in 1992 and her Ph.D. in history in 1996. For her German Habilitation – the key for access to a professorship in many European countries – she was awarded the Bavarian Ministry of Culture prize. She taught at the University of Bayreuth, was a Research Fellow at the German Historical Institute London (2004-2009) and thereafter at the Institute of Historical Research, University of London. In 2015 she became a long term visitor at the Institute for Advanced Study, Princeton, New Jersey.
In 2015 Dr. Urbach took part in uncovering a 1934 film clip of the British royal family making the fascist salute. (T. Whitehead, ‘Queen ‘Nazi salute’ footage could have been inadvertently released by Palace,’ telegraph.co.uk, 19 July 2015); (T. Morgan and J. Reilly, ‘Their Royal Heilnesses, Video shows royals giving Nazi salute at Balmoral,’ The Sun, 17 July 2015, Secret 1933 film shows Edward VIII teaching this Nazi salute to the Queen); (O. Gillman and I. Calderwood; E. O’Flynn for Mail on line; and E. Davies and H. Sime for The Daily Mail, Fury after The Sun publishes Queen’s Nazi salute footage, ‘The Sun has sunk to a new low’: British public reacts with fury after tabloid publishes 80-year-old pictures of the seven-year-old Queen and the Queen Mother being taught a Nazi salute, Footage has emerged of the Queen being taught Nazi salute by Edward VIII, 1933 video shows future King, Elizabeth and Princess Margaret at Balmoral, The Queen Mother is also in archive footage, taken as Hitler rose to power, Buckingham Palace has slammed The Sun‘s ‘exploitation’ of the footage, 18 July 2015); (J. Shammas, ‘Queen Elizabeth filmed performing Nazi salute with uncle in 1933 footage’, Mirror Buckingham Palace has said it is disappointed by the footage, and how it “has been obtained and exploited in this manner”); (‘Uncovered film shows Queen Elizabeth II rehearsing Nazi salute as a child (Video)’, RT International, 18 July 2015); (J. Contrera, ‘After controversial Queen Elizabeth II video, should royal records be public records ?,’ Washington Post, (L. Smith-Spark and R. Gigova, ‘Young Elizabeth’s Nazi salute: The Sun sparks furor – CNN,’ CNN, ‘Buckingham Palace Might Have Accidentally Released Elizabeth Nazi Salute Footage,’ International Business Times, 19July 2015) ; (Low, Camila Ruz and Harry, ‘What is the context of the royal ‘Nazi salute’ film?,’ BBC News; (J.P. O’Malley, ‘British archives hiding royal family’s links to anti-Semitism in 1930s, says historian,’ The Times of Israel, 19 July 2015); (T. G. Grose, ‘What Secrets Are the Royal Family Hiding?,’ 23 July 2015, A grainy clip of Queen Elizabeth II giving a Nazi salute as a child has prompted calls to open Great Britain’s Royal Archives).
Dr. Urbach has worked as historical adviser on many B.B.C., P.B.S. and German documentaries: ‘Die Windsors’, which is marked “Unfortunately, the content you want is not available.”
In a piece that she wrote in August 2015 Dr. Urbach narrated the fortuitous circumstances in which she came to see the picture which appears early in the present essay and represents a seven-year-old Elizabeth making the Nazi salute. Next to her is sister Margaret, three, and next to both are Queen Mary, their mother, and uncle Edward. In the film which was shown to Dr. Urbach the first time on 8 July 2015 both Mary and Edward appear as raising their right arm in the Nazi salute.
Here is how Dr. Urbach told the story:
“It started with an email. On 8 July a journalist from the Sun was looking for me ‘urgently.’ I was sitting at home in Cambridge trying to pack for our move to America and had no idea what he could want. Perhaps it had something to do with my recent publications on the Duke of Windsor, but the newspapers had already covered that the previous month. I emailed back and the journalist asked whether I could look at a document. He did not want to tell me what the document was about and he insisted he could not email it to me, I had to see it in person. It all sounded very clandestine and much more exciting than packing boxes. Two hours later he sat at my dining table and I signed a confidentiality agreement. For the next ten days I stopped packing boxes.
I had expected him to show me some Russian or German documents connected to the Duke of Windsor but instead he took out his phone and played the Nazi salute film. I saw the Duchess of York, the Prince of Wales and Elizabeth and her sister doing Nazi salutes on a lawn. [Emphasis added] Two thoughts came into my mind – the first one was ‘this is going to cause major trouble’, the second one was, ‘this is the trigger to open up the royal archives.’
For a long time I had been trying to interest people in the fact that the royal archives were hindering serious historical research on the 20th century. People listened politely but nothing ever happened. [Emphasis added] Since 2008 I had tried everything to get at least a catalogue of the German material in the archives. With my colleagues Franz Bosbach and John Davis, I had finally been allowed to list some of the Anglo-German correspondence up to 1918. Our project had cost the German taxpayer 500,000 Euros, but we were never sure whether we had seen all the pre-1918 material. The head archivist never gave us access to her secret internal catalogue and there was no hope that we could ever look at any of the decisive interwar material. Every time I asked for correspondence from the 1930s I had been rebuked. I knew that a lot of my British and American colleagues had suffered a similar fate and were deeply frustrated. The royal archives were a secure building and if you weren’t an official biographer there was no back door into it. [Emphasis added]
And now there was this film in front of me that gave a glimpse behind the façade. It was too good to be true. And that is why I was so suspicious. How did the Sun get it? There was no way one could ever smuggle something out of the Round Tower at Windsor Castle where the Archives are situated. It was a fortress.
The journalist assured me the film was obtained in a legal way. It seems to have been released by mistake, because somebody did not check the material properly before handing it over for a documentary on E II. It made sense to me because something similar had once happened to me. A royal archivist had given me letters from the 1920s, which must have looked innocent to her because she was not a properly trained historian. Ironically the royal archivists do not know much German history and they do not read German, even though lots of the material at their archive is in German. In the letters I was given accidentally the Duke of Coburg explained to his sister, a minor royal, that he was a member of a particularly lethal Freikorps. The archivists probably did not know that this Freikorps was involved in several murders. Historians live off such mistakes.
Unintentionally releasing the Nazi salute film, however, was a much more exciting mistake. It was an amazing chance that could really bring us forward in opening up the archives and I told the journalist I would do anything to help to put the film into its historical context. There was another historian involved in this process but he did not want to be named and later publicly condemned the publication of the film (which I found rather odd). Behind the scenes there must also have been lawyers involved, because up to the last moment it wasn’t at all certain whether the story would be published. On 16 July the Palace was given the chance to comment on the film. To my surprise they did not say anything about its content but just called its imminent release “disappointing.’ It reminded me of what I tell my eight-year-old son when I am in a Victorian state of mind.
The story finally broke on Saturday the 18 July. The next week was tumultuous, because I had to explain myself on several fronts. Some people thought that as a German I would not understand that Nazi salutes were meant humorously (well, they were after the Charlie Chaplin film in 1940, but certainly not in 1933/34 when it was a political gesture. A gesture the Queen Mother had already seen during a visit to Mussolini’s Italy and understood with all its political implications. That the later Duke of Windsor supported it was evident anyway).
Other defenders argued that the royals could not understand German politics anyway and were therefore political innocents. This was even less convincing, since the royals were briefed by the [Foreign Office] regularly as well as informed by their enthusiastic German relatives. They also would have read the Times, which already in July 1933 reported on Jews being lynched in the streets. In the following days I also had a few debates with defenders of appeasement, who thought whatever the royals did in the 1930s regarding Germany was absolutely understandable, including the unconstitutional step of George VI to celebrate the Munich agreement with Chamberlain on the balcony of Buckingham Palace. Since I had written in my book Go-Betweens for Hitler on back channels George VI ran to Nazi Germany I could not agree with seeing him as a political innocent.
I am now back at packing boxes. But thanks to many supportive journalists and fellow historians the crusade to open up the royal archives is now unstoppable. And I have a feeling we will see more releases from other archives soon.” (‘Peeping through the chinks in the royal armour,’ Talking Humanities, 6 August 2015).
Continued Wednesday – Terminal adolescents (part 8)
Previous instalment – Terminal adolescents (part 6)
Dr. Venturino Giorgio Venturini devoted some seventy years to study, practice, teach, write and administer law at different places in four continents. He may be reached at George.firstname.lastname@example.org.
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